U.S. Foreign Policy and Muslim Women's Human Rights

U.S. Foreign Policy and Muslim Women's Human Rights

U.S. Foreign Policy and Muslim Women's Human Rights

U.S. Foreign Policy and Muslim Women's Human Rights

Synopsis

Americans' concerns about women's human rights in Muslim countries were triggered by the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and have evolved within the context of long-standing Western stereotypes about Muslims, as well as transnational feminism and the global human rights movement. As these frameworks simultaneously competed against and reinforced one another, U.S. public conversations about Muslim women intensified, culminating in feminist campaigns and U.S. policies that aimed to defend women's rights in Islamic countries--such was the case with the Clinton administration's decision not to recognize the Taliban regime after they seized control of Afghanistan in 1996.

U.S. Foreign Policy and Muslim Women's Human Rights provides a fresh interpretation of U.S. relations with the Muslim world and, more broadly, U.S. foreign relations history and the history of human rights. Kelly J. Shannon argues that, as U.S. attention to the Middle East and other Muslim-majority regions became more focused and sustained, the issue of women's human rights in Islamic societies was one that Americans gradually identified as vitally important to U.S. foreign policy. Based on an analysis of a wide range of sources--including U.S. government and United Nations documents, oral histories, NGO archival records, news media, scholarship, films and television, and novels--and a wide range of actors including journalists, academics, activists, NGOs, the public, Muslim women, Islamic fundamentalists, and U.S. policymakers--the book challenges traditional interpretations of U.S. foreign policy that assert the primacy of "hard power" concerns in U.S. decision making. By reframing U.S.-Islamic relations with respect to women's rights, and revealing faulty assumptions about the drivers of U.S. foreign policy, Shannon sheds new light on U.S. identity and policy creation and alters the standard narratives of the U.S. relationship with the Muslim world in the closing years of the Cold War and the emergence of the post-Cold War era.

Excerpt

This book traces a quiet revolution in U.S. foreign policy over the last few de cades: the rise of women’s human rights as a central concern in American relations with the Islamic world. As the United States went to war in Afghanistan in 2001, the George W. Bush administration explained its war goals in striking terms. the United States fought to avenge 9/11 and remove the Taliban from power, they claimed, but an important aim—the press called it a “collateral benefit”—was the liberation of Afghan women. President Bush connected Islamic radicalism with women’s subjugation. Even before the war began, he had condemned the oppression of Afghan women in an address to a joint session of Congress, describing it as part of “al Qaeda’s vision for the world.” After commencing the U.S. invasion a few weeks later, the administration emphasized women’s rights as an important objective that went hand in hand with combating terrorism. As First Lady Laura Bush explained that November, “The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women.”

Regardless of political affiliation, the vast majority of Americans supported the war in Afghanistan that fall. Echoing the administration, the U.S. media increasingly focused on the need to restore Afghan women’s human rights. the Taliban forcing women to wear the burqa symbolized their oppression for the American public and policymakers alike. By November, as the Taliban appeared to be on the verge of defeat, discussions about Afghan women nearly eclipsed other coverage of the war. Democracy Now observed in December, “As the US-led war in Afghanistan has escalated, the situation of Muslim women has taken the world’s center stage.” Journalists, women’s rights activists, policymakers, and the American public welcomed the liberation of Afghan women.

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